Reducing number of high school diplomas proposed

Reopening a volatile topic, state Superintendent of Education John White said he wants to consider eliminating one of Louisiana’s three high school diplomas.

The move is driven in part by a new push to aid students who want to pursue a career after high school rather than seeking a four-year college degree.

The diplomas offered now are:

  • Core 4, which is the college preparatory curriculum.
  • Career, which is supposed to prepare students for jobs or community or technical colleges.
  • Basic, which is aimed at getting students ready for community or technical college and is less rigorous than Core 4.

White told the Superintendents’ Advisory Council last week that the system is flawed and that the state should consider issuing only two diplomas — college and career.

Superintendents generally praised the concept, and several said they would back pilot projects.

“We just think it is something that benefits children, it benefits local communities and it benefits the state,” Michael Faulk, chairman of the panel and superintendent of the city of Central’s school system, said Monday.

Any overhaul is several years away. White mentioned the possibility that the changes could be in effect for seniors during the 2017-18 school year, which means the new options would first affect students who begin the eighth grade in the fall.

Through a spokesman, White declined to discuss the proposal on Monday.

More information will be released in April, said Barry Landry, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.

The Core 4 curriculum, also known as LA Core 4, stemmed from a two-year study that ended in 2007.

White made a presentation to superintendents that said, while the classes are supposed to prepare students for college, they are misaligned with TOPS, a scholarship program that helps finance tuition and other costs for students who qualify.

The career diploma “does not prepare students for meaningful, high-wage careers within Louisiana and, perhaps as a result, is universally under-utilized,” according to a department briefing that the superintendent distributed to local superintendents.

Several superintendents said any makeover that helps students who plan to pursue a career immediately after high school is worth pursuing.

“It just opens up a lot of possibilities,” said Patrice Pujol, a member of the council and superintendent of the Ascension Parish school system.

The last time the state authorized a new diploma to trim the high school dropout rate won approval was in 2009.

That law allowed high schools to offer a curriculum that emphasizes career and technical classes, and a diploma that is supposed to prepare students for jobs as welders, electricians and emergency responders.

In 2009, only 224 of Louisiana’s then roughly 180,000 public high school students were pursuing the new curriculum.

Faulk said a 20-student welding program run by his school district has produced students with certificates in pipe welding.

Some have landed jobs that pay more than $30 per hour, he said.